Baliem Valley, West Papua, Indonesia

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Dani men in a Balim Valley village wearing traditional gourds (koteca), West Papua, Indonesia.

Baliem Valley life

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A Dani village in the valley.

The most colourful and photogenic part of Indonesia’s Baliem experience is Dani fashion.
The well-travelled Dani male – outside the central town of Wamena – wears feathers in his hair, pig fat mixed with soot over the upper body, face and hair, and an enormous, inconvenient penis gourd. Curly or straight, the koteca is 30 -50 cm long, light brown and held erect by one string around the waist and one around the scrotum. Pig tusks through the nose, war paint and a bundle of spears are optional extras.

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Two Dani chiefs, a well smoked ex chief and the current chief.

The Baliem Valley is primitive tourist destination with no real hotels, little food, no beer and lots of rain. However, what is does have to offer the curious traveller is just about the strangest menswear ever seen, some very weird traditions and a lush green hiking environment.

Sadly, The Dani, like most eccentric ethnic groups overexposed to Western practices, are changing their ways. Out will go the spectacular koteca, in comes tatty shorts, out will go the bare-chested mama, in comes the shabby sack lady.

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A watchtower over the Balim Valley.

How/when to travel around West Papua’s Balim (Baliem) Valley

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Dani men help a foreign visitor on slippery tracks.

Hiking trails are convoluted and often wet and slippery, so a guide and hiking boots are equally useful travel accessories, though not essential. If you are not wild about having sweet potatoes for three meals a day, critical foodstuffs, such as chocolate and peanut butter can be found in Wamena, supplemented – with luck – by vegetables bought on the trail and cooked by your faithful retainer – in his own pots and pans. Alcohol is not available in any form in the valley.

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Me traveling optimistically across a  river to get to the Dani village.

Weather: Indonesia’s Baliem Valley is warm and wet for much of the year. January to March is supposed to be the most comfortable season. July and August are the busy months; less seats, less rooms, more travelers, more expense.

Wamena, Baliem’s main town, and the market area in particular, is an agreeable introduction to the Dani, but for the real thing you should travel around the Balim and adjoining valleys, taking at least two or three days, and staying in Dani villages – almost certainly in the men’s hut.

Guides: An experienced English-speaking guide with some knowledge of Dani language is vital for a full exploration of such an alien environment.

Few Dani people speak English and inter-clan rivalries may affect their information and en-route contacts, so unfortunately some of the best guides are from other islands in Indonesia, such as Sulawesi, and not natives of the culture at all.

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A Dani widow with one finger joint removed for every deceased relative. She’s wearing a traditional Bilum bag strung from her head, ready to stash any useful wild or cultivated foods she comes across. Baliem Valley, West Papua.